Like any modern netizens that are moving towards an era of visual communications, you may like to throw one or two stickers into the midst of a dull conversation to spice it up in what is being called “micro-entertainment“. But be careful when you do that in China, you may well start a doutu.
Digital expressions have had an amazing impact on the way people talk online. To look into the emerging vertical, we spoke with Grant Long, Chief Strategy Officer for BiaoqingYun, about how China’s digital expression industry is different from the U.S. as well as the unique opportunities coming inside and outside China.
Grant has years of experiences in the industry. He joined Chinese digital expression startup BiaoqingYun this year. Grant previously worked as Head of Strategy and Business Development for Swyft Media, which aims to evangelize emoji and visual expression in mobile messaging. After Swyft was acquired by Monotype, Grant continued his initial dreams of spreading the digital expression business around the globe and found his first stop in China, where the fast paced internet ecosystem was far ahead in the adoption of “biaoqing” (表情), a unifying term to describe stickers, animated GIFs, static shareable memes and more.
“[Biaoqing] are used by young and old (in China), and have an established place in society. And yet, biaoqing seemed to thrive organically despite many inconveniences like limited platform support, and commercialization of the format was scarce. To me, it felt like an opportunity,” he said on his personal blog.
Below is an edited excerpt from our talk with him.
What do you think are the key differences between Chinese and U.S. digital sticker market?
For one, I think it is important to note that biaoqing (emoji/stickers/gifs/etc) have their origin in this part of the world, and while recent adoption in the West has been phenomenal, I think these formats of digital expression are more universally adopted – and loved – in China and the nearby region. However, although biaoqing are relatively new in the West, there has been far more adoption of the unit as a form of advertising – something that I helped to pioneer at my last company, Swyft Media. I think this makes for an exciting opportunity… Adoption of Biaoqing in China is more universal, and yet, the format has not been monetized yet at scale.
What are your tips for localization in overseas markets?
There are several important factors for moving overseas in the biaoqing space. Ease of integration is very important. Every tech company has a lengthy product backlog, so offering a simple integration path is essential to forming partnerships. Additionally, supporting both SDK and API implementations is key – we have both, as well as HTML5 support.
The second factor is relevant content. This requires top artists (illustration, animation, film, etc), an operations team to guide the artists, and a partnership team to form relationships with local IP/content owners. Also important is having data on how people use biaoqing to communicate, and creating content that fits those communication patterns. We know that our artists are amazing, and we know that our data about communication patterns is unmatched. We also have fantastic processes for content operations and partnerships – and as we expand, will likely hire local team members into these positions.
Finally, understanding the competitive landscape and important partners is key here. Many Chinese businesses struggle to expand globally because their teams lack awareness of international markets, trends, etc… it really is a completely different ecosystem of apps outside of China, not to mention pop culture. That is the beauty of our company. Most of our core team is Chinese, but many of our executives lived for long periods abroad in Japan and have fantastic global awareness. Meanwhile, I bring the experience of working for years on biaoqing outside of China. We have a truly international leadership team with the right makeup to have success globally.
Why China and why BiaoqingYun? What’s in the country and the company that attracted you?
You have to be foolish to ignore the growth and economic opportunities that abound in China. The country has a massive population of highly connected mobile internet users, with rising incomes and a propensity to spend. This is also the core of the biaoqing phenomenon that has since expanded to all other parts of the world, yet hasn’t been commercialized in China yet. But the factor that made this an easy decision for me was finding a very capable and experienced team of friendly, trustworthy people that I felt great about taking a risk with. After leaving Swyft Media, I made sure to study the market, the competition, and the team before finally deciding to join. Any new venture is risky; the best way to beat the odds and be extremely successful is to work with a great team! I truly believe we have that.
What’s BiaoqingYun’s business model? What kind of innovations do you want to bring?
At this point, we offer most of our services to app developers for free. Our products are also completely free to end users. However, what we are doing is building a massive scale of attention and engagement from highly connected mobile users, often at times when they are communicating with close personal connections. These moments can prove extremely valuable for brands. We’ve done some small executions with advertising partners – Microsoft, 20th Century FOX, and Paramount, for example – but right now our main focus is on expanding the reach and offering fun and engaging solutions to our app partners and their users.